The Unintended Ship Graveyards of the Aral Sea

(Image: Martijn.Munneke, cc-3.0)

The Aral Sea lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was once one of the four largest lakes in the world. It has been shrinking at an alarming rate since the mid-20th Century. Now only 10 – 15 per cent of its original size, it has split into several smaller bodies of water and found notoriety for its ship graveyards symbolizing the collapse of an industry.

(Images: Martijn.Munneke, cc-3.0)

This rapid decrease can be attributed directly to Soviet irrigations projects. From the 1940s onward water was taken from the two main tributary rivers in Uzbekistan to irrigate areas of desert for a variety of export crops, particularly cotton. In the early 1960s work on a greater scale was undertaken and this in conjunction with low irrigation efficiencies (poorly maintained or unlined channels leading to water loss) resulted in most of the Aral Basin’s water supply being diverted, leaving no way in which to replenish the sea.

(Image: neil banas (see website), cc-nc-3.0)

The retreating waters have ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left former fishing towns miles from the water’s edge. The only reminders of the once prosperous fishing industry are dry, deserted docks, abandoned fish processing plants and the rusting hulks of fishing trawlers, stranded far from the water in what is now open desert.

(Images: Martijn.Munneke, cc-3.0)

The story doesn’t end there, however. Work is currently underway in Kazakhstan to restore water to the part of the sea now known as the North Aral through Dike Kokaral, a dam which divides the North and South bodies of water and through a programme of irrigational improvements. There have been definite signs of success in the last couple of years, but how this project will develop in the years to come remains to be seen.

Keep reading – visit an Enigmatic Anchor Graveyard in Tavira, Portugal, or explore more Ship Graveyards, Abandoned Boats and other vessels.

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